New Beginnings

Sermon Jan 12 2020 St Ambrose Aranui

Today we are commemorating the baptism of Jesus. It was a watershed moment – in both senses of the word. It was the beginning of his ministry, as we heard in the reading from Acts, throughout Judea.

There is very little known about what happened between the events of the Nativity and the Epiphany, and Jesus’ baptism. There is the story of Jesus being left behind in the temple when he was twelve, but that is all we have from the intervening years.

Let’s imagine the scene.

There is a wild-looking man, wearing camel’s hair, probably with lots of hair and beard, who is calling out in the wilderness that it is time to repent and be baptised. This was John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ second cousin. We can assume that Jesus knew John growing up – his mother had been to see Elizabeth during their pregnancies. The distances were not large, and the two boys, who were close in age, probably spent time together as children.

Jesus had been flying beneath the radar until this moment. He was waiting for the right time. Awaiting instructions.

When he heard about John, he knew that this was the time.

Baptism was well-known in the Jewish religion as a public way of washing away your sins, and repenting, turning over a new leaf. The people were desperate to do anything that would help them in the face of the Roman occupation.

It’s very fitting, isn’t it, that this event is commemorated at the start of a New Year. Do you make new year’s resolutions? More to the point, do you keep them? They usually last only about a week.

Eat less sugar, be nicer to that weird person at work. Exercise more… but how about spiritual resolutions? Maybe this is the time to take stock of your walk with the Lord – are you meeting God daily in prayer? Are you bringing all the things that matter to you to your Maker? Remember, if it’s important to you, it’s important to God. Are you encountering God in scripture? There are many ways of doing this these days, – no longer do we have to haul a weighty tome off the shelf and struggle with archaic language. There are aps and text messages, all sorts of ways to hear from God.

This would be a much better thing to do for the beginning of your ministry this year than just vowing to give up chocolate, which you probably did last year and the year before.

Wait, you ask. My ministry? I’m not a prophet in the wilderness, or Jesus healing the sick. I’m not a priest or a missionary.

But you are a member of God’s kingdom here on earth, and that means you do have a ministry.

Let’s look at how Jesus began his ministry. He went publicly to his second cousin, joined the queue with all the hundreds of other people, who were repenting of their sins. He claimed no special status, just did what was needed.

Confessing our sins is a good thing to do regularly – that’s why it is part of our communion service. It might seem a bit of a waste of time of you live a Godly and quiet, perhaps even boring life. Most of us may not have dramatic stories of repenting from dreadful things each week, but this weekly rhythm teaches us what to do when we do slip. If it’s good enough for Jesus, who was pure and without sin, to repent and be baptised, it’s good enough for us. Even if that moment of silence before we confess our sins leaves us racking our brains. This is a time to ask the Holy Spirit to show us if there’s anything that needs to be let go of.

The Holy Spirit is the other character in the trio – John in the water, Jesus coming up to him, and the Holy Spirit coming down on Jesus’ head, in bodily form, like a dove. It wasn’t a dove, but that was the nearest thing the witnesses could describe it as.

Imagine seeing that – first you might think, is that a bird over that guy in the river? What’s it doing? But then the voice that many people heard – this is my Son, the Beloved, with who I am well pleased.

No one who heard that could doubt that something special was happening.

This moment, as we heard in the Acts reading, was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Before he set out to do anything, to preach a word or to heal a single person, he came to God, repented of his sins, and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Friends, this is a good model for us to follow. Before we undertake any new ministry, any undertaking at all, in fact, because all of life is ministry, we need to examine our hearts in repentance. What are my motives for doing this? Am I genuinely trying to help, or do I have a bit of a Saviour complex, where I can solve other peoples’ problems? Am I doing it for the acclaim and the praise? For public recognition? Am I disappointed that my name wasn’t on the New Years’ honours list, again, and want to see that change? I know that’s not what drives you people here at St Ambrose, but it is worth considering why we are doing what we are doing.

Then, after we have repented of anything that is not worthy, we can ask again that God will fill us with the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. I certainly do remember the first time it happened to me, and the power of the Spirit knocked me to the floor. I was never the same again. But there are times when we all need a top-up, another infusion, a booster shot.

Jesus wouldn’t have been lacking in the presence of the Holy Spirit with him, but this extra, and more importantly, public affirmation set him on his ministry journey.

Jesus gave us our marching orders – “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

We are all sent on this mission. Our New Year can start with this in mind.

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